John Alden, Priscilla Mullin, and Myles Standish—Plymouth’s First Love Triangle

September 10, 2020  - by 
Portrait of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins

You may be familiar with the Mayflower’s turbulent journey across the Atlantic, its landing off course, and the harrowing winter that followed—but did you know about the famous love story of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullin?

Although we can’t know for sure if the story of John Alden, Priscilla Mullin, and Myles Standish was Plymouth’s first love triangle, we do know that it is the first Mayflower love story to be forever immortalized by a narrative poem—by the Aldens’ own descendant!

bridal procession of john alden and priscilla mullin, as detailed in the courtship of miles standish

Who Were John Alden, Priscilla Mullin, and Myles Standish?

John Alden sailed on the historic Mayflower voyage in 1620 as a crew member. He was hired to make the trip as the ship’s cooper, or barrel maker. Myles Standish was also hired to join the voyage, but for his military experience. When the ship returned to England, however, both Myles and John decided to stay in Plymouth Colony rather than return home.

Priscilla Mullins originally made the voyage with her father, stepmother, and brother. When tragedy struck Plymouth during the first winter, Priscilla lost her entire family she had traveled with.

Despite her loss, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins became one of the first couples to get married in the new colony. According to oral history, John Alden and Myles Standish were romantic rivals, which became the inspiration for the famous poem The Courtship of Miles Standish.

The Courtship of Miles Standish

John and Priscilla Alden’s love story was popularized by The Courtship of Miles Standish, a narrative poem published by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John and Priscilla Alden’s descendant, in 1858. The book spread like wildfire in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

In the book, Myles fancied Priscilla but was too shy to tell her, so he asked John Alden to relay the message. When John told Priscilla of Myles’s feelings, it instead sparked a romantic relationship between John and Priscilla. 

“Speak for Yourself, John”

“Speak for Yourself, John,” is one of the most quoted lines from The Courtship of Miles Standish. When John Alden relayed Myles Standish’s feelings for Priscilla, Priscilla famously replied, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” In the poem, her reply leads to their courtship.

Sketch of john and priscilla alden when priscilla says "speak for yourself, John"

Is The Courtship of Miles Standish True?

While Longfellow took the idea from Timothy Alden’s A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions, there is little historical evidence to support the tale. It is difficult to say if Timothy Alden’s account is accurate since it was recorded almost two centuries after the fact. Even if it were accurate, Longfellow fictionalized the story to write The Courtship of Miles Standish.

The book’s fame played an important role in making the Mayflower pilgrims’ story a prominent part of American culture. Its fame even helped the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving celebration become a national holiday in 1863.

John Alden and Priscilla Mullin’s Legacy

Illustration of John and Priscilla Alden

Though the story of their courtship is questionable, we do know quite a bit about other aspects of John Alden’s and Priscilla Mullin’s lives and legacy.

John Alden played an active role in Plymouth Colony. He was one of the first signatories of the Mayflower Compact, and he served in several government positions, including treasurer, court deputy, governor’s assistant, and member of the council of war.

John’s skills as a carpenter and barrel maker also helped the colony survive its early years as the pilgrims built homes and meetinghouses. In the 1623 division of land among the colonists, John and Priscilla received four acres on the north side of Plymouth Colony on the first street at the base of Burial Hill. They built a small home there.

In 1626 an agreement was made between the Merchant Adventurers Company in England, which had financed Plymouth Colony, and members of the colony. Eight men, including John Alden, undertook the debt in exchange for boats, furs, and other items that belonged to the company. The agreement also gave them the right to trade for themselves for six years.

Later, John and Priscilla received 100 acres in Duxbury. The property was accessible by water from the bay and the river. The west end of the farm ran along the Green Harbor path between Plymouth and Marshfield.

In 1628, they built a home and farm on the property. For several years, the family traveled 10 miles to Sunday church services in Plymouth. The trip was a long and hard one. Eventually, the colonists petitioned to start another congregation in Duxbury, leading it to become a separate town in 1637. The couple also served as prominent and founding members of Duxbury.

Alden home in new colony

When Did John Alden Die?

John Alden was the last surviving signatory of the Mayflower Compact. He died on September 12, 1687, and was buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

When Did Priscilla Alden Die?

It is uncertain when exactly Priscilla Alden died. She stops appearing in records in 1650, but oral histories put her death just years before John’s death. It is possible she died between 1650 and 1687.

Priscilla Alden is buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground alongside her husband, John Alden. While the original location of their graves is unknown, commemorative stones were later placed near the headstone of their son Captain Johnathan Alden

John and Priscilla Alden’s Family Tree

Many people can trace their ancestry back to John and Priscilla Alden, who had 10 children together. It is estimated that John and Priscilla have more descendants than any of the other Mayflower passengers.

Famous Descendants include John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Marilyn Monroe, Calvin Coolidge, George Orson Welles, and even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author of the book on their courtship.

Are you a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden? Find out on FamilySearch.org. If you’re connected to Family Tree, sign in to your FamilySearch account and then click View My Relationship on either John’s page or Priscilla’s page to see if you’re related.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments

  1. My mother must have read a book about John Alden and Priscilla, because I am named after Priscilla Mullins

      1. Priscilla and John are my 10th great-grandparents. But in addition to this fact I have another 10th great-grandfather totally unrelated to Priscilla and John who is also on the Mayflower. The two separate families did not connect until my father and mother were married and produced me.

  2. My mother. Francis Allard O’Brien, was invited to join the DAR, the Daughters of the American Revolution since her heritage dates back to John Alden and Priscilla Mullin. As a PhD Clinical Psychologist and psychoanalyst trained in an Institute associated with the American Psychoanalytic Association I have long been fascinated with families and their multigenerational histories, an emphasis explored by Murray Bowen MD who was also a psychoanalyst who had a profound impact on the profession of social work and the field of family therapy.

    1. Siebolt, maybe you know this, but having ancestors that came over on the Mayflower can get you into the Mayflower society, but not the DAR. The DAR and SAR are for descendents of soldiers who fought in the American Revolution

  3. Priscilla and John are my 10th great-grandparents. But in addition to this fact I have another 10th great-grandfather totally unrelated to Priscilla and John who is also on the Mayflower. The two separate families did not connect until my father and mother were married and produced me.

  4. I am named after my namesake John Aden, Although i have not found it on Ancestry.com and am still looking, my grandfather was a genealogist and found this out before i was born. I am related to Carole Grace Aiken-Rivers Kirkpatrick. Thank You and look forward to hearing from You.
    I also found out that im Related to Richard Warren.

  5. My family is related to John Alden and Pricilla Mullins through my mom’s dad’s Hurd family. We even have it documented in a bound book about the Hurd Family. So, to everyone else that posted, hello cousins.

  6. John and Priscilla are my 10th great grandparents and now I finally understand why I have inherited 2 beautiful large leather bound copies of Longfellows works once belonging to my great grandfather, Andrew Newell. Two of my cousins have joined the Daughters of the Revolution.

  7. John Alden and his wife Priscilla Mullins/Alden are my ninth great grandparents. Their daughter Ruth my eighth. This leads down to my paternal grandmother.

  8. John Alden and Priscilla Mullins/Alden are my ninth great grandparents. Their daughter Ruth my eighth. This leads down to my paternal grandmother. I joined the Sons of the American Revolution, SAR. last year.

  9. Priscilla is my 1st Cousin 12 generation’s back . A few of my relatives came over on the Mayflower . Pretty cool to be able to read about everything that they went through .

  10. John Alden and Priscilla Mullins are two of my eleven ancestral grand parents who came on the Mayflower. Other ancestral grand parents include William and Alice Mullens; Myles Standish; William and Mary Brewster; Henry Samson; Richard Warren; Giles Hopkin, and Stephen Hopkins. In all 20 percent of the Mayflower’s passengers were my blood relatives either as cousin. aunt, uncle, or grand parent.

    1. Hello! It seems we are two of many descendants of the Priscilla Mullins/John Alden ancestors. My other Mayflower ancestor is John Billington.